Contributing writer for Wake Up World
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare…
I don’t think there is any more terrifying prospect than having your child abducted by a stranger. But what if your child was kidnapped ‘legally’ by a psychiatric hospital in the United States. Would you feel any less concerned, fearful or enraged?
This is exactly what happened to a six-year-old boy named Nicholas in Jacksonville, Florida. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, Nicholas sometimes had a difficult time listening to teachers or settling down to do his schoolwork. He would also hit people on occasion when he became frustrated or angry. Nicholas was seeing both a therapist and psychiatrist to manage his conditions.
But, long gone are the days when parents are given the option of retrieving their children from school if behavioral problems arise. On the day in question, his parents said he had merely thrown a temper tantrum, but the school counselor decided the boy needed to be sent to a psychiatric hospital because he was kicking and biting.
For Nicholas and his parents, this was the starting point of a nightmarish ordeal…
Legal Kidnapping and the Decline of Parental Rights
The Baker Act, Florida’s commitment law, allows a person to be committed to a psychiatric hospital for examination — if there is substantial reason to believe the person is mentally ill and at risk for causing severe harm to themselves or others. Once transferred to the facility, it’s the hospital’s responsibility to determine if the individual needs to remain. The hospital is authorized by law to hold patients for up to 72 hours for the evaluation, but must release patients who aren’t likely to inflict serious harm to themselves or others.
Nicholas was delivered to River Point Behavioral Health by the police around lunchtime. His mother learned of the situation through a series of voicemails from the school and counselor. River Point called as well, requesting consent for treatment because Nicholas was a minor — which she declined.
“I didn’t want him to be there at all,” she told BuzzFeed News, and added she immediately requested that the facility release Nicholas because of his young age — and because he really didn’t need to be there. The hospital declined and told his mother she wouldn’t be able to see her son until later that evening during visiting hours.
“It felt like my child had been kidnapped,” she said. “I can’t even hug my kid and tell him it’s going to be okay.”
Not wanting to distress Nicholas further because she was so upset by the situation, his mother decided it would be best if only his father visited him that evening.
When his father arrived with a small stuffed puppy to comfort Nicholas, what he found was disturbing. The room was largely filled with teenagers, one of which was cursing and threatening to kill herself. In contrast, Nicholas seemed calm. He told his father about another boy he could play with in the same ward, who was close in age. Around this time, Nicholas’s father signed a form, which he thought was consent to give his son medication, but was actually consent to hospitalize Nicholas.
Several hours after his father left, a boy threw a book at Nicholas’s face — giving him a bloody nose. Nicholas began screaming and lashed out physically. He was taken to the emergency room around 10:30 PM, where his mother met him.
“He was all blown up, exhausted, deliriously tired,” she recollected. Normally, Nicholas goes to bed around 7:30 or 8:00.
After Nicholas was examined, and it was established nothing was broken, his mother once again asked to take her son home. However, the emergency room had been instructed not to release the boy because he was on a Baker Act hold. Nicholas was taken back to River Point just before 2 AM, where he lost control due to exhaustion and stress. When the staff was unable to calm him, he was taken to the seclusion room around 3 AM, where he remained for an hour until he stopped screaming. Shortly thereafter, he was released from the room.
Nicholas logged just an hour or two of sleep that night.
More than 24 hours after he was admitted, Nicholas was finally evaluated by a doctor who noted that Nicholas had no suicidal or homicidal thoughts, but said he would need to stay three to four days because of “poor impulse control” and “aggressive behavior.” The psychiatrist also began the process to petition the court to commit Nicholas against his parents’ will. If the hospital was successful with the petition, Nicholas could be held for up to 90 days without his parent’s consent.
On the second visit with the psychiatrist, the doctor noted on his file that Nicholas said “he feels happy today, later states he was mad because he woke up early.” And while the doctor ticked the box for recommending continued inpatient care, he left blank the area used to describe the reason why. Nicholas had now been hospitalized for three days. His parents said he was exhausted and delirious, and couldn’t hold a conversation. He wasn’t making eye contact. The front of his legs now had bruises, which the hospital staff said were from playing. He had also been bit by another boy.
“The Baker Act is supposed to confine really mentally ill people who are dangerous — and a kid who has a temper tantrum is not a danger to the public,” said Stephen Talmadge, a lawyer and psychologist who specializes in that law and who reviewed documents from Nicholas’s case. Talmadge, who has represented clients against UHS, said the standard in the law is vague, giving hospitals wide discretion. But, he said of Nicholas, ”What is the kid going to do, bite a stranger?” [source]
Thankfully, the court recognized that Nicholas was not a threat to himself or others and did not need inpatient treatment — especially since he had the support of his family, along with a therapist and psychiatrist. Nicholas was released back to his family by 3 PM that day.
River Point Behavioral Health is one of several troubled units in the nation’s largest psychiatric hospital chain, Universal Health Services. In a BuzzFeed News investigation, it was found that “current and former employees, from at least 10 of the company’s hospitals in nine states, said they were under pressure to fill beds by almost any method and to hold patients until their insurance payments ran out.” [source]
The hospital is also under criminal investigation for Medicare fraud “as part of a wider federal probe into UHS as a corporate entity.” Additionally, Federal investigators are examining whether River Point abused Florida’s involuntary commitment laws to keep patients at the hospital who did not require treatment.
Regardless of the outcome of the probe, it has become clear that parental rights are under attack — and have been for quite some time. Whether through Child Protective Services (CPS) abuse, compulusory medical treatments or cases like Nicholas’s, one fact is certain: unless we take a stand for our rights as parents, nothing will change — and will most likely become much worse in the future.
If you would like to get involved and help reform the system, a good place to start is through advocacy groups like this one.
About the author:
Carolanne Wright enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years.
Through her website Thrive-Living.net, she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision. You can also follow Carolanne on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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